Wednesday, September 21, 2005

REVIEW: Adrenalin (A Secret Location, Dublin)

Can there ever have been a show in Dublin with more shooting? Irish purveyors of blank rounds probably haven’t had such a payday since Saving Private Ryan fetched up on these shores. Once the shooting starts in Adrenalin, Semper Fi Theatre Company’s heist movie-cum-revengers’ tragedy, it doesn’t stop until…well, let’s leave that bit a secret.

The other big secret in this show, of course, is where exactly it takes place. Members of the audience never know for sure. They obediently pile into a fleet of buses with blacked out windows in front of the Customs House and are deposited at a mystery warehouse some minutes later. Soon, we are in the company of a gang of partially clad dancers and some murderous villains in spooky clown make-up. We have all, clearly, been taken on a trip to Sin City.

The gang has returned from an armed robbery and is ready to split the spoils. Unfortunately, everything is not running according to plan and pretty soon the place starts to fill up with dead bodies, severed fingers and gunshots. Lots of gunshots, for Adrenalin relies heavily on shooting, along with knifeplay, girlfights and stylised kickboxing choreography, to supply its energy, something that often leaves script and plotting feeling a little undernourished.

Perhaps as Adrenalin is a kind of live exploitation movie, that skewed balance might be fair enough. But at times, even with constant tension that so much noise and brutality engenders, it felt that the strings of the production needed to be drawn a little tighter. There is an enviable extravagance in ambition here that could have been better rewarded with more crispness in the performances, more cunning in the storytelling.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

REVIEW: Rumble (O’Reilly Theatre)

MTV pioneered the notion of a hip-hopera, to surprisingly dull effect. And everybody from Baz Luhrmann to Levi’s jeans has attempted to add some ghetto style to Shakespeare. But it falls to a German company to bring hip-hop to the Bard, combining freestyle street dancing (alongside more academic contemporary dance) to tell (almost) the story of Juliet and her Romeo.

Rumble features utterly stunning breakdancing that had the first night audience regularly erupting into appreciative cheers and applause. With good cause. You might not have realised that what your life was missing was a fine display of the art breakdancing, driven by fantastic physical wit and scarcely believable athleticism. But after a few minutes being swept along with the raw energy of Rumble, and you’ll know it was.

But with that rawness comes a certain, well, rawness. While the breakdancing justifies the price of admission, Rumble is far less effective when it comes to moving through the narrative of the star-crossed lovers. As they might say in the hip hop community, the joint had distinct problems with its “flow”. Scenes seem to disconnect from each other, and some routines (the non-hip hop ones largely) too often lacked a real place in the evening’s entertainment.

One might imagine that driving proceedings along with a live DJ might have given the show more coherence and liquidity. It was actually a surprise that the company had made do without. The presence of a live selecta might also have weeded out some of the distinctly unhip hop music.

As it was, the swing from soft techno, to reggae, to Latin, to jazz always felt like a departure from what was best about the show: the miraculous battle of muscles and gravity that is breakdancing.

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REVIEW: Death in Dun Laoghaire (Film Base)

The thrill of recognition plays a big role in Gary Coyle's first, brave plunge into the chilly waters of performance: just about everyone who has come of age in South Dublin in the last twenty years will share some memories with this artist turned storyteller.

Coyle is perhaps best known through his work as a visual artist, which includes his series of images associated with serial killers, and, more recently, his swimmer's eye views of the waters of Dublin Bay.

For Death in Dun Laoghaire, he leverages his photographic work into an odd, heartfelt autobiography, using a slide show and some nice tunes to monologues his way through Dublin in the Seventies to the present day. It is a simple recipe for a pleasant time, even if Coyle's preoccupations – as he quickly owns up – tend to be rather grave.

Taking the audience from his early years in his native borough, via various murders and fatal mishaps, to his present fixation on his own death, Coyle manages to include everything from gang rape to death by automobile, by way of disarmingly sweet elegy to the Stillorgan dual carriageway.

The photographs that accompany the stories are often gorgeously romantic – Dun Laoghaire is often unequivocally beautiful when seen through Coyle’s camera – but still harbour a wash of unease that is underlined by the macabre and witty text.

Given their common fixation on death, Spalding Gray would seem to be one model for what Coyle is attempting, even if the Irish artist does not yet have the presentational polish of his New Yorker model. But then again, Spalding Gray conspicuously lacked Coyle’s luminous gift for urban landscape photography.

Heike Schmidt's B&B

The Fringe has always had a special talent for throwing up unusual shows in unusual venues. But this year’s show from Germany’s Heike Schmidt is, you might say, the best one yet. While groups like Semper Fi have brought us to locations as salubrious as the jacks on Stephens’ Green (Ladies and Gents), Schmidt’s show goes one better by bringing its select little audience to a hostel on Aungier Street, then bedding them down there for the night.

“I just wanted to find some way where you could have a performance that would be very intimate,” says the show’s Berlin-based star. “Because that is the only way to explore what I want to. I’m very interested in that space between being awake and being asleep, which is a very interesting state of mind.”

Wanting to move beyond more traditional gigs, Schmidt was desperately seeking somewhere that people could become relaxed enough to go to sleep in the company of a roomful of strangers. Clearly nobody told her about The Abbey. As luck and some legwork would have it, Fringe director, Wolfgang Hoffman located a dormitory at the Avalon.

Schmidt, who trained as a singer, specialising in French chanson, first met Hoffman when the Fringe director was running Fabrik, the performance space he founded in Berlin.

“Most people can remember being sung to sleep, and they remember it being a very positive experience. But when we are no longer children, nobody will sing us to sleep anymore. Which is why I wanted to create this show where I could get one-on-one with people and sing them to sleep…”

But will people in the audience actually feel comfortable enough in those surroundings to go to visit the land of nod?

“That is the real question. I really think we will be able to create an environment where people can start to feel totally relaxed. We need to create somewhere that people feel totally relaxed. Because that half-asleep, half-awake space that is so interesting, it is also…well, it is also a very personal space.”